Social Policy
• Published
June 21, 2021

Why Gavin Newsom's Recall Election is a Very Bad (and Possibly Destructive) Idea

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What do a transgender Olympian, a businessman, and an adult film actress all have in common? Perhaps they’re characters in a movie Paul Thomas Anderson has yet to write, but realistically speaking, these three people (their names Caitlyn Jenner, John Cox, and Mary Carey, respectively) are all vying to become the next governor of the great state of California and replace current governor Gavin Newsom in an extremely controversial recall election that will occur this November. It is this very recall election that has placed California, a state that has been a Democratic stronghold since 1992, into the center of the nation’s political spotlight, and for awful reasons, because while the fact that this election is happening highlights Newsom’s questionable governing during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, which energized a vocal minority of California Republicans, and just how volatile states that are dominated by one political party can be, it’s hard to avoid just how absurd this whole thing really is.

I am a Californian; I was born in Los Angeles and have been living in Los Angeles County for my entire life, and my state is governed by some truly terrible politicians. For example, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, has done an awful job trying to solve the city’s ever-growing homelessness crisis and the instability of our public school system and has instead devoted a ridiculous amount of money toward law enforcement. My Rep., Karen Bass (D-CA), who isn’t terrible, per se, is more of a national political figure and is solely elected every two years because of the “D” next to her name on the ballot, and I’ve yet to see the impact of her work on my district. I am a Democrat, and I live in a state controlled by Democrats (albeit bad ones), and if that’s how people choose to vote, then so be it. But Gavin Newsom is a completely different story, even though on the surface, he really shouldn’t be.

Newsom was elected as governor during the 2018 midterm elections, beating Republican candidate and businessman Jon Cox, who’s running to be governor again in this recall election, by a staggering 24-point margin. But what makes Newsom different is that compared to Eric Garcetti, he’s not a terrible politician. During the beginning of his term, he had some very good ideas about how to improve the state, he was well-liked by most Californians, and his work generally went under the radar because none of it was noteworthy or controversial. California Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to arrange enough valid signatures to set a recall election into motion, but those attempts never came into fruition and Newsom’s popularity remained steady. But that was all before the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020.

Newsom’s leadership during the early stages of the pandemic was definitely commendable, as he set into motion several executive orders to curb the spread of the virus, began to devise a color-based tier system to determine county-level restrictions based on virus prevalence, and delivered informative daily briefings to help increase awareness of the virus that more and more people were losing their lives to. But in the summer of that year, things started going downhill. Newsom made the unfortunate mistake of succumbing to political pressure from frustrated Republicans and President Donald Trump and hastily decided to reopen California’s economy, albeit not fully, but enough so that infection and mortality rates increased to the point where the epicenter of the coronavirus in the United States had shifted from New York City to Los Angeles. Given that, combined with the disturbing inaction of law enforcement during the June riots in response to the death of George Floyd and Newsom’s unmasked, unsocially-distanced November dinner at the posh Napa Valley restaurant The French Laundry — which would have sparked a French Revolution in and of itself had there been enough momentum — led to a steep decline in Newsom’s popularity among Californians. And, sensing a fresh opportunity, the California Republican Party reenergized efforts to compile enough signatures for a recall election, and this time, they succeeded, turning in 1.6 million.

There are two things to take note of here. Firstly, the process for setting a recall election into motion in California is asinine. The population of California is just about 40 million people, but organizers only needed 1,495,709 valid signatures to put the recall on the ballot, which is a minuscule minority. Secondly, the California Republican Party is completely delusional if they believe, given this country’s current political climate, that they can unseat a Democratic governor with a Republican opponent, especially with the Republicans that have already declared they’re running. So far, no popular Democrats have announced a run against Newsom (which would make this election a bit more compelling), but John Cox is an impractical candidate, the prospect of either Caitlyn Jenner or Mary Carey becoming governor is totally comical, and every other candidate is unremarkable. The chances of a Republican being elected to a major governmental position in California in this day in age are as slim as a Libertarian presidential candidate being taken seriously by the establishment, and that’s just the truth.

Some may argue that this recall election is necessary because Californians are disillusioned with establishment Democratic politicians. Proponents of the recall may cite 2003, when Gov. Gray Davis was recalled and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, a film star, was elected to become governor and was reelected in 2006. On a broader note, they may cite the 2016 election of Donald Trump, when traditionally blue states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania cast their electoral votes for Trump because they saw promise in an outsider. 

But the premise that a majority of Californians are disillusioned with the establishment that governs our state is inherently false. California is getting better. The state’s infection and mortality rates are decreasing steadily, vaccine distribution has been stellar, the economy is revitalizing and schools are reopening their doors, and while the flaws of Newsom’s governing were definitely frustrating at the time, none of them had any irreversible impact whatsoever on the effects of the virus in California. Life is finally returning to what Californians have been hoping for, and Newsom is doing a very good job at facilitating this transition and is demonstrating that he’s learned from his past mistakes. In fact, a new poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that 56% of voters would vote against recalling Newsom while only 40% of voters would, and that 79% of that 40% minority are Republicans, suggesting that Newsom could defeat the recall with same margin he defeated John Cox with in 2018. 

Politicians should only be recalled whenever there are long-term problems in their governing, and if there ever was a case to be made for the recall of Gavin Newsom, which there never was, there certainly isn’t a case to be made now. California is improving, its economy is reopening, and Newsom is popular, which displays this recall election as what it really is: a political charade orchestrated by the California Republican Party with the sole intent of reclaiming power after a bad election cycle and creating unnecessary noise in an already tumultuous and delicate political climate. Don’t play into their hands. Gavin Newsom will remain California’s governor until the 2022 election, and all that this recall election will symbolize is the idiocy of a political process and the frustration of a vocal minority. There definitely won’t be any surprises in November, if that’s what you were hoping for.

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